Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

It is very popular to talk about the Love of God, the Grace of God and the Mercy of God but we tend to sweep the Wrath of God under the proverbial carpet.  Is that because it doesn’t exist or we are ashamed of it or is it because it’s unpopular or just that we don’t understand it?  Well, it may well be for a mixture of reasons and although I don’t entirely understand it and will probably make a ham-fisted job of it I’m going to have a look at it now!

 

So, what is wrath?  If you look at a dictionary definition it will say something along the lines of…

strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.

vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.

 

So we can see that God’s wrath is his strong, stern and fierce anger resulting in his vengeance and punishment!  Oh, if only it was as simple as that!!!  However, this is how many people see God!  They see him as this great God sitting in heaven just waiting for us to do something wrong so that he can smite us dead!! Now the problem with this view is that, and let’s be honest about it, none of us would have made it past nursery school!  So why isn’t this the case? Well, for start God cannot always be judged by our standards. It stands to reason that God’s wrath would be different to our wrath just as God’s love and mercy are different to ours.  God’s character is flawless, He does nothing out of selfishness, pride, envy etc. Much of our anger is fuelled by our faults – this is not the case with God. God’s wrath must be seen in relation to His love, mercy and grace.

 

Within the Christian faith, therefore, there is a great tension. We have a God of love, grace and mercy but we also have a God of Wrath. Now, many people are happy to accept the God of Love, Grace and Mercy and forget about the fact that he will also show His wrath. However, can you really have one without the other? Can you really have a God who loves you but doesn’t get angry when things happen that hurt you? Can you have a God of justice who just sweeps under the carpet all wrongdoing? We cry out for justice, we want the guilty punished. Do we really want to believe in a God who is going to let all wrong-doing go un-punished and the guilty set free?  Well, of course we do, when it comes to us at least – but when it comes to others that’s a different story!!

 

Let me explain here that there is a difference between anger and wrath. Anger in many ways is an emotional, human response to a situation. Wrath on the other hand is a well thought out, carefully planned response to the wrong doing that goes on. Love, grace and mercy are part of who God is, wrath is something that is not part of God but only a response to the wrong doings of man.

 

C. S. Lewis summed up this tension we find between a God of love and a God who shows wrath by saying…

God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies

Many people find this idea of God very uncomfortable, but for me it makes much sense. You can’t have a God of love and justice without Him displaying wrath. God’s wrath is not some out of control anger that lashes out. God’s wrath is very controlled, so controlled in fact that it is restrained by His grace and mercy. As we looked at before God is not sitting there with a big grin on his face just waiting to punish any wrongdoing. We read in Ezekiel…

Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?… Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

God’s wrath had not been revealed yet as he is waiting for all to turn away and turn to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s love, grace and mercy. Jesus came to take the wrath of God away from all who believe in Him. I guess this is why it is easier for us to focus on the love, grace and mercy of God – we have been shown those attributes in human form.  We have read the prophesies and seen them come true in the person of Jesus.  However, God’s wrath is something that is still to come!

So what might this wrath be like!! The Bible gives us quite a good idea, and it’s not good! Zephaniah tells us that…

The great day of the Lord is near–near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter… That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish

Revelations tells us…

 

Out of his mouth there comes a sharp sword with which to strike the nations… He will tread the winepress of the furious wrath of God the Almighty

John explains that we will all undergo God’s judgement but only those not covered by Jesus’ saving power will experience God’s wrath…

 

Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see that life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

And Nahum adds…

 

The Lord is a jealous God and avenging, the Lord avenges and He is full of wrath; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and reserves wrath for his enemies.

In Romans we also read that…

 

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory–even us, whom he also called…

And

 

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you…

Just to press home the point in Thessalonians we read …

 

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

So, God’s wrath is something to be feared. It is real and it is coming. However, for those who believe and accept Christ as Lord there is nothing to worry about. God protects those whose heart is set on Him. God keeps His great wrath in check in order to show His glory through His great mercy! To me that is quite amazing!

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As far as I know there aren’t too many people that have been hurt by the church worldwide. In fact there aren’t that many people that have been hurt by complete individual churches. However, when most people say that they’ve been hurt by the church they really mean they’ve been hurt by a particular individual or small group of individuals within a church. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t make the hurt any less real or what these individuals did any less wrong. It does, however, help us to try and think about it with a better perspective. Would you blame a billion people for the actions of an individual? Would you miss out on winning the lottery because the newsagent was rude?

Whenever we enter into relationship with others we put ourselves in a place of vulnerability. If we are married it is our spouse that is likely to cause us more pain than anyone else. If we have children they are likely to cause us a different by still real and intense pain. Those we love the most and those that love us the most have the likelihood to cause us the most pain. Churches are meant to be places of security, love, care, intimacy, peace and trust. However, churches are made up of people, albeit Christian people. Now, people think that Christians are meant to be almost perfect. Let’s face it many Christians portray themselves that way. Christians should be better people than non-Christians, there is no question about it. Christians have a purpose, a calling, a God who instructs and a Holy Spirit that guide. Christian have been shown through Jesus and the Bible the way they should live and have been put into churches to help them along. However, Christians are still erring human beings with more faults than you can shake a stick at. Let’s be realistic a compulsive liar who becomes a Christian will still be a compulsive liar from one day to the next. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make to perfect overnight. The compulsive liar may double his efforts not to lie once he has become a Christian but he will still struggle with it for years and may never overcome the temptation to continue lying.

Christians are not perfect. The Bible tells us that if we claim we have no sin the truth is not in us and we deceive ourselves. If you join a church and enter into relationship with people there they will let you down, they will hurt you, they will fall short of your expectations and let’s be really honest you will do the same to them. I guess the reason that many people feel hurt, let down, disappointed by the church is that our expectations of Christians is higher than they should be. We expect Christians to be loving, caring, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, honest, patient and selfless. Not only that but we expect that of them 24 hours a day 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. So when a Christian has an off day and every Christian does it is a big shock to the system. We feel doubly let down. Also there are people in churches who not only are not nice and loving and caring they are downright horrible, spiteful, hurtful and abusive. I’d like to tell you that these people are just wolves in sheep’s clothing, they’re not Christians but just pose as Christians to give Christians a bad name. Unfortunately, I can’t. Although there are people like this who go along to church, say the right things, do the right things and act as if they were Christians but in they’re hearts are far from it, there are also Christians who are far far far from what God would want them to be. Churches, like most big organisations are full of a wide range of people, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jesus knew that His followers would not be anywhere near perfect. In the account of Jesus’ life that Saint Matthew wrote we read…

Then Peter came and said to Him (Jesus), “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Jesus knew that we would continue to hurt each other. In this passage both seven and seventy are seen as perfect numbers so when Jesus say seven times seventy the implication is that we forgive our brother as many times as is necessary. I’m not trying to use this passage to say, get over it, forgive and bounce back. All I’m trying to show is that Jesus know that his church wouldn’t be this perfect community of believers who did nothing wrong. He knew that we would be needing to continually forgive each other because we would continually hurt each other. When people are in relationship together hurts happen – FACT! This is not an excuse – we should try and live together in unity, causing no hurt and being loving, caring, selfless individuals as much as we possibly can. However, we ALL make mistakes, we ALL have off-days, we ALL have things we struggle with, we are ALL tempted to do wrong, we are ALL human.

Now, here’s the thing… do we let our hurts, grievances, fall-outs and feuds keep us from what God has in store for us? Do we let these things get in the way of seeking the truth? Do we stop believing because we’ve been hurt? Do we give up the riches that God has for us because we’ve had a tiff with someone? Only you can answer these questions. However, I urge you to seriously think about them. Think about them in the light that one person or a small group don’t represent the whole church. Think about them in the light of Jesus being the only perfect person – he will never hurt you or let you down. Think about them remembering that people are flawed, faulty and very imperfect, but also think about them knowing that you are also flawed, faulty and very imperfect – but that God loves you just the way you are.

Terrorists, in a not too subtle way, campaign for change. They blow things and people up, they hijack planes, people and events and nowadays they even blow themselves up in the name of their cause and in the name of change. They try and change peace to fear, safety to insecurity, good to evil and order to chaos. They normally have a cause that they believe they are fighting for, though sometimes their reasoning and aims aren’t made entirely clear.

There are another set of hijackers whose aims are entirely clear and they don’t try to hide them. Their aim is PROFIT! They’ll take any occasion, event or tradition, hijack it and try and make a profit on it. These are the people that tell you that Halloween is about dressing up, sweets and over-priced pumpkins. They convince you that Christmas is about presents, trees, decorations, food, crackers, more presents and expensive lights. When Boxing day comes around they change tack and now they are selling us the Easter idea of Bunnies, Eggs and Baby Chicks. These people sell us the idea and then very kindly and unselfishly sell us the goods – all in the name of making a profit.

I’m guessing that there is not too much profit to be made in a man being, mocked, whipped and crucified. I suppose a man bleeding and dying in absolute agony isn’t that commercial an image to put forward. Better to cover that image in chocolate or better still to cover it up completely and replace it with something more immediately profitable.

So what, in a nutshell, is Easter really all about?

I love to be creative. I’m not particularly good at it but there is something within me that loves to create. As we look around us it’s pretty obvious that I’m not the only one. Our world is full of creative people. Be they scientists, artists, writers, builders, architects, poets, gardeners, doctors and the list is almost endless. People love to create. Whether it is fine art masterpieces, world-class novels, mighty ships, order out of chaos or a quickly scribbled drawing (to name it loosely) to stick to the fridge. Most people create. However, in creating, for that creation to be any good we have to “give it wings”! My photos are no good if no-one sees them. The vegetables that I grow are only of use when people eat them. The bowls are turn, carve and polish only come into their own when people use them or admire them. We have to let go of our creations in order for them to have true value. And this can be where the problems start.

I’m sure Fritz Haber the Nobel award winning Jewish scientist never imagined that when he created his insecticide that the Germans would use it to kill over 1.2 million of his fellow Jews. Thomas Midgley discovered the CFC Freon as a safe refrigerant to replace the highly toxic refrigerants such as ammonia in common use. This resulted in extensive damage to the Ozone Layer. His other famous idea was to add tetraethyl lead to gasoline to prevent “knocking” thus causing worldwide health issues and deaths from lead poisoning. He is considered to be the man that – “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.” Little did he know what his creations would cause. Sir Marcus Oliphant was the first to discover heavy hydrogen nuclei could be made to react with each other . This fusion reaction is the basis of a hydrogen bomb. He is later quoted as saying “We had no idea whatever that this would one day be applied to make hydrogen bombs. Our curiosity was just curiosity about the structure of the nucleus of the atom”. Creation for good can also lead to evil.

When God created the world, we are told that it was good. However, God gave his creation wings. He gave man freewill to chose and soon the creation which had been good turned bad. People chose to do things they way they wanted rather than the way God had told them was the way he had planned things. People decided to rely on their own wisdom rather than the higher wisdom of the creator. God’s creation of this world and the people within it included the original cause and effect. To stray from the ways that things were meant to be had consequences. Just as using an insecticide in the wrong way had consequences for the lives of millions of Jews. Easter is God’s answer. Easter is God’s rescue plan. Fritz Haber, Thomas Midgley and Sir Marcus Oliphant created for good but once they had given their inventions wings there was no going back. They couldn’t see that people were using their invention for evil and suddenly get it all back, un-invent it, stop people using it. However, God had a plan. A plan that He had conceived from the very beginning. Not a plan “B” but a continuation of plan “A”. Easter was this plan.

The world had been created “Good”. The pinnacle of God’s creation – Man – had turned their collective back on God, had done wrong and had created consequences. Easter was set to sort those consequences out. God’s plan “A” was to sacrifice his own son for what He had created. Had Haber, Midgley and Oliphant been able to right what they had started I guess they may well have given up much to stop the evil that their creations had led to. But would they have paid the price of their own sons? We shall never know. What God had create good, we have turned to evil. Easter is God cancelling out the consequences. Easter is God telling us there is another way. Easter is God telling us this His way for us is so important that He’d send His son to suffer and die to pay for our wrongdoing. Easter is God saying to us that we’ve done wrong but that’s OK. The consequences have been wiped out. The slate has been wiped clean. The guilt you feel should be felt no more. Easter is God saying He’s still here, still involved, still working His purposes out and still very much in control. Haber, Midgley and Oliphant created and then lost control of their creation. Easter tells us that God created, continues to create and has never lost control.

So Easter in the modern world may be more about Eggs than crosses and bunnies than forgiveness but, as with most things in life, we need to dig a little deeper. I’m certainly not going to tell you to boycott Easter Eggs but I am asking you to think whether Easter Eggs are more important than God giving us a second chance? Are bunnies more important than someone dying to save you? Something to think about as you enjoy your chocolate?